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Economic Situation Prompts Increased Smoking, Delay In Quit Attempts

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Today the American Legacy Foundation -- the nation's largest public health foundation dedicated to reducing tobacco use in the U.S. -- announced the results of a new survey conducted on their behalf by Harris Interactive which found that stress about the ongoing financial downturn is having a clear and immediate effect on smokers.

Seventy-seven percent of current smokers report increased stress levels due to the current state of the economy and two-thirds of those smokers say this stress has had an effect on their smoking.

November marks Lung Cancer Awareness Month, a time when smokers might reflect on the life threatening nature of their addiction, yet this new data indicates smokers are suffering more than ever as stress is causing smokers to delay a quit attempt, increase the number of cigarettes they are smoking, or switch to a cheaper brand instead of quitting. Moreover, some former smokers report they are starting to smoke again because of the stress over the financial situation.

Among the survey findings:

-- One in four smokers stressed about the economy say this stress hascaused them to smoke more cigarettes per day, higher among women (31%)than men (17%).

-- Those smokers with lower household incomes are especially affected bythe financial crisis. A greater percentage of stressed smokers with ahousehold income of less than $35k reported smoking more cigarettes perday (38%) due to the current state of the economy, compared to thosewith household incomes of $35-74k (24%) and those with incomes of morethan $75k (13%).

-- In addition, a greater percentage of middle-income ($35-74.9k) stressedsmokers have delayed their quit attempts because of stress over theeconomy (20%) than those with household incomes of under $35k (14%) andto a greater extent more than those stressed higher-income (more than$75k household income) smokers (6%).

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-- Unemployed smokers stressed about the economy reported smoking morecigarettes per day (29%) in greater numbers than full-time orself-employed stressed smokers (17%).

"We are especially concerned about how the economy is impacting those struggling to quit and stay quit," said Cheryl G. Healton, Dr. P.H., president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation. The survey found that 7 percent of current smokers surveyed had started smoking again due to stress over the economic crisis, even though they had previously quit. Furthermore, 9 percent of stressed-out former smokers said the state of the economy had tempted them to start smoking again. Even more telling, 13 percent of stressed smokers say their stress about the economy has caused them to postpone their plans to quit.

"It is no secret that stress is a major factor in smoking habits," Dr. Healton added. "The turbulent global stock markets have caused virtually every American a certain level of stress. Those who also struggle with an addiction to tobacco products are at an increased disadvantage as they contemplate quitting, or feel the urge to smoke more cigarettes. Quitting smoking under normal circumstances is one of the most difficult things you can do. Smokers need to create a comprehensive quit plan, use the right medications or nicotine replacement products to help them with their quit attempt, and get social support from family, friends and colleagues. It's challenging to make a comprehensive attempt to quit when issues like job security, uncertainty about the future, and the worries of your family and friends keep you from having all the resources you need to tackle this very difficult addiction."

2,375 U.S. adults aged 18+, of whom 1,347 had ever smoked, participated in the survey. The survey also found economic stress is causing smokers to re-evaluate their buying habits when it comes to tobacco products:

-- One-fifth of smokers stressed about the state of the economy haveswitched to a cheaper brand to save money.

-- More stressed smokers with household incomes of less than $35k (28%)reported brand-switching compared to those with household incomes ofmore than $50k (12%). One quarter of those with incomes of $35-$49kreported switching brands to save money.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and November 20 marks the Great American Smoke Out --- both serve as important reminders about the ongoing issue of tobacco addiction in our country, and the 45 million Americans who smoke, many of whom desperately want to quit. Each year, approximately 70 percent of smokers say they want to quit, but only about five percent are successful long-term.

Now more than ever, smokers need reliable and relatable information about quitting.

Earlier this year, Legacy and a coalition of public health groups launched EX, a quit smoking program that encourages smokers to "re-learn life without cigarettes." The campaign aims to educate smokers about the daily triggers that make them want to smoke, and preps them how to overcome triggers with practice and preparation.